Poison Pen: Indians Even ALCS In Extras

BOSTON—To see the Red Sox in the fifth inning Saturday was to believe the next game at Fenway Park would be Game One of the World Series Oct. 24. Manny Ramirez was taking curtain calls. Mike Lowell was getting showered with chants of "M-V-P!" from a delirious sellout crowd of 37,051. Their teammates were sporting ear-to-ear grins and jostling for position on the top step of the dugout.

The Sox chased 19-game winner Fausto Carmona and Ramirez and Lowell hit consecutive homers off elite left-handed reliever Rafael Perez—all in the span of 18 pitches and all after Curt Schilling, the most reliable postseason pitcher of his generation, exited before he could complete the top of the fifth.

How could the Sox lose?

A better question: How could anyone have underestimated the resiliency of the Indians?

The Indians absorbed the best the Sox could muster on the mound and at the plate and remained upright long enough to deliver an impressive knockout blow in the 11th inning, when Trot Nixon's pinch-hit RBI single jump-started a seven-run outburst that lifted the Indians to a 13-6 win. The win evened the ALCS at a game apiece heading to Cleveland, where Games Three, Four and Five will be played Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

It was the first loss of the postseason for the Sox, who won their first four games by a combined score of 29-7. "It would be a nice idea if you could run through the postseason without losing," Terry Francona said after a marathon that lasted five hours and 14 minutes, "I don't know how realistic that is."

It seemed completely plausible earlier in the evening. Ortiz and Ramirez, who reached base in all 10 of their plate appearances in a 10-3 Game One win Friday, remained scalding hot in the first five innings and got some help from Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell in the two- and five-hole, respectively. The quartet combined to reach base eight times in 12 plate appearances and accounted for three walks, four runs and five hits as the Sox came back from a pair of deficits to take a 6-5 lead in the fifth.

But the Sox' offense came to a screeching halt after J.D. Drew's one-out single forced Perez from the game. Jensen Lewis (2 1/3 innings), Rafael Betancourt (2 1/3 innings) and Tom Mastny (one inning) were as impressive as they are unheralded in shutting out the Sox on just one hit over the next 5 2/3 innings.

"Our bullpen did a fantastic job," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "When you're in extra innings, particularly on the road, you're talking about having to get six outs versus their three when you're into extra innings. You've got to try to push the ballgame and keep them down and our bullpen did a great job with that."

The Sox appeared to have the advantage in every inning between the seventh and 10th. In addition to the benefit of batting last with a hot offense, the Sox were able to get optimal usage out of their best relievers. Hideki Okajima (1 2/3 innings), Mike Timlin (one inning) and Jonathan Papelbon (two innings) allowed just one hit.

But Lewis, a rookie who threw more than two innings twice in 26 appearances this season, and Betancourt, who hadn't thrown more than two innings since July 5, 2006, combined to retire 11 in a row between the fifth and ninth. Ortiz and Ramirez, who had been retired consecutively in the same inning just once in 20 opportunities this postseason, were set down by Lewis and Betancourt in the seventh and Mastny in the 10th.

The Sox made their only threat of the final six innings an interesting one. Dustin Pedroia singled with two outs in the ninth and pinch-runner Jacoby Ellsbury stole second. Kevin Youkilis fouled off six straight two-strike pitches before smoking a line drive to centerfield that was speared by a sliding Grady Sizemore.

"You have to be impressed with the job their bullpen did," Mike Lowell said. "After the sixth run was scored, they did a good job…they allowed their team to stay in the game."

In the 10th, Mastny—who allowed 95 base runners in 57 2/3 regular season innings—retired Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell on 11 pitches. The Sox were not nearly so fortunate once they were forced to go deep into their bullpen with Eric Gagne, Javier Lopez and Jon Lester in the 11th (see sidebar for more).

"We didn't make enough good pitches," Timlin said. "That's exactly what we didn't do. And they won."

And in doing so, the Indians proved again to be resourceful on the postseason stage. Five nights earlier in the Bronx, Indians pitchers recorded one 1-2-3 inning and allowed 12 hits but stranded 10 runners in eliminating the Yankees in the AL Division Series.

Now, the Indians are heading home tied in the ALCS even though C.C. Sabathia and Carmona—the best one-two punch in the playoffs—combined to allow 12 runs and issue 10 walks in 8 1/3 innings.

There will be no sweep. And with the Indians absorbing the best the Sox could muster, it certainly felt, early this morning, like the next game at Fenway will be Game Six this Saturday night.

"I don't think I'm any more impressed than I was beforehand," Lowell said. "We didn't expect them to come in here and just lay down and give us two games.

"We knew they were a good team. We still know they're a good team. No one said this was going to be easy."

Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.

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